Urs Gerber

Urs Gerber

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On the 27th of July 1953 the Korean War came to an end with the signature of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Designed to ensure “a complete cessation of hostilities […] in Korea” the agreement effectively separated the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North, and the Republic of Korea, the South, by a 241 kilometer long and approximately 4 kilometer wide border. Ironically, this territory called the Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ has become one of the most militarized borders in the world with nearly two million soldiers patrolling on both sides. Only fifty five kilometers away from Seoul, in the middle of the DMZ lies the most famous border village: Panmunjeom. Now a popular destination for tourists, the village hosts the Joint Security Area where North and South meet.

Along with the DMZ, the Armistice also established mechanisms meant to regulate the relations between North and South Korea. Among them, the tasks of monitoring and regulating military buildup on the Peninsula were delegated to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, or NNSC. At the time of the Armistice, both sides selected two countries each to form the Supervisory Commission; the United Nations Command chose Switzerland and Sweden, while North Korea and the Chinese Volunteers Army nominated Poland and Czechoslovakia. Officers from these countries were stationed on their respective sides of the border. Today, however, as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall, only Sweden and Switzerland maintain permanent operations in the DMZ.

Major General Gerber first joined the Swiss Ministry of Defense as an intelligence officer. He was later in charge of the Armed Forces’ security cooperation with Euroatlantic states, and rose to the rank of deputy director for international relations. In his various capacities, Major General Gerber worked closely with counterparts from the UN, the OSCE and NATO. He joined the NNSC as Head of the Swiss Delegation in 2012.

There are two things where tensions spark up immediately – you can sometimes even sense it in the DMZ. One is the balloon launching issue, it gets the North terribly nervous, and secondly Christmas trees.

The interview was conducted on December 10th in Seoul.